I was born near Cracow, Poland in the mid-1980s. My father died when I was only 8 months old, which prompted my mother and me to immigrate to the United States in the summer of 1989. One of my first memories is watching the Berlin Wall fall down on live television. It didn’t mean a whole lot to a child back then, but the significance is not lost on me today.
I grew up in Burbank, a multi-ethnic, working-class suburb on the southwest side of Chicago, Illinois. We lived with my grandparents and my mom’s brother. My mother continued to struggle with the fallout of my father’s untimely death. This trauma would haunt her for decades. It manifested itself via monstrous addictions and long periods of depression. Things came to a boiling point in my teen years. After graduating from Reavis High School, I enlisted in the United States Army as a mechanic.
My first duty station after training was Fort Wainwright, near Fairbanks, Alaska. The year was 2005. A few weeks after getting to Alaska, my unit deployed to Mosul, Iraq. In Mosul, I had three main jobs: mechanic work, guard duty, and convoy security. Going outside the wire as a .50 caliber machine gunner was my favorite. It was a surreal experience back then and, in many ways, it still is.
My unit, the highly-decorated 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, was extended on what was supposed to be our last day of deployment. After 12 months in country, we were extended indefinitely. We would not touch American soil for another 4 months. I consider my time in Iraq to be the most formative period of my life and I think about it every day.
While my deployment was demanding, it was nowhere near as difficult as transitioning back to civilian life. The structure and discipline I enjoyed for four years disappeared. I was left feeling scared and alone in the middle of the economic crisis known as The Great Recession. The year between me leaving military service and starting college was the worst year of my life.
I completed my freshman year at the University of Illinois at Chicago while living in the neighborhood of Little Italy. Then, I transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I met the love of my life, Adrienne, on the local drinking holiday known as Unofficial. While at UIUC, I joined the Illini Veterans, a chapter of the Student Veterans of America. I served as President in my senior year.
Currently, I live in Dallas, Texas with my now fiancé and our two adopted cats, Simba and Posh. I self-published my first book, The Lives of Dogs: An Average Soldier’s Tale, on October 31, 2016. My next project is a collection of short horror stories that I plan to release sometime in Fall 2017.